The Challenge | Make Sense Out of Mars

Develop a sensor to be used by humans on Mars.

MORFEU - Mobile Resource Field Examination Unit

MORFEU is a mobile platform packed with a enourmous variety of sensors. It is designed to locate and quantify the resources in an area location, with the objective of determining the viability and allowing the planning of the colonie´s ISRU hardware.

Orbi Red

Orbi Red - Morfeu

Our team is proposing a manned rover data collecting method, to be used by an early stage base on the surface of Mars. The idea is to analyze the surface and underground chemical composition and landscape, developing a detailed map to be used for determining key locations for a martian In Situ Resource Utilisation mission.

The Mission

The concept can be applied for a mission with the following objectives.

  • Analize the surrounding areas for points of interest in the geographical and geological formations.
  • Search for key resources to be used for future missions to the same location.
  • Create a detailed map with multiple layers of information about the surrounding
  • composition and important key features.

  • Develop and test ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilisation) technologies to be used in the
  • establishment of bases and in future colonies.

  • Produce relevant data about the Martian surface and underground aspects, searching for
  • life, liquid water, volcanic activity and other possible key features of the martian system.

    Every manned Mars mission is supposed to take 2 rovers, to make sure there is a redundant system in case of a malfunction or emergency situation. The second rover could be used to rescue the stranded astronauts in case of a malfunction. The proposed method would need a second rescue vehicle capable of transporting the role mission crew, that could also come equipped with medical assistance equipment and cargo. The first rover, would be a mobile instrumental platform, piloted by two astronauts and equipped with a large variety of sensors and tools, that would allow for a quick acquisition of data and simultaneous tests, that could be done autonomously as a deploy function of the rover, and also including many activities that would require EVA (extravehicular activities) as sample collecting and many others, that could be supported by tools linked to the rover, one of which, would be a drill, to reach for underground samples. While one of the pilots would go into EVA the other would stay inside the rover monitoring the relevant data such as oxygen and energy levels while piloting a remotely controlled drone, that would come on top of the rover. The drone would be equipped with optical sensors and it would be used to look for key points of interest in the surrounding areas while the rover accomplishes its many functions. After the data acquisition process is finished, the rover would go into the mobile mode and move forward into the next data collecting point. The majority of the instruments in the rover would be designed for underground composition determination, looking for underground water, metals, cavities and geothermal fissures. Meanwhile, the HAB would be responsible for analyzing the samples collected in the previous expeditions, determining the surface composition and extracting relevant information about the geological history of the samples.


    The method that would be applied for the expedition and data collection would consist of basically 4 steps:

  • Step 1: Deployment of various sensors in the determined location, gathering a huge variety of data about the underground composition and landscape.
  • Step 2: EVA to collect various samples of soil and rocks, from the surface and also drilling of multiple roles and collection of samples from different depths.
  • Step 3: Study of the samples in the habitat lab, that would include detailed composition analysis and geological development interpretation.
  • Step 4: Use the collected data to predict and plot areas of interest on Mars surface.
  • The expeditions would be arranged in straight lines, starting on the HAB, and the rover would stop from certain distances from certain distances to realize the first and second steps mentioned above.


    The scientific experiments can be divided into mainly 2 categories:

    Category 1: Experiments conducted on sight, after been deployed by the rover, the instruments would be utilized by the astronauts. The instruments in this category include:

  • MastCam-Z: Image analysis
  • Mini-TES: Infrared spectrometer for mineral studies
  • MEDA: Collect temperature, wind velocity and direction, pressure and relative
  • humidity

  • RIMFAX: GPR Instrument that maps the underground geological structured
  • SHERLOC: Instrument uses an ultraviolet laser beam and with the bean bounce on the
  • material, it can detect organic compounds.

  • WISDOM + Adron: Hydrogen and Hydrated Compounds detector
  • OSS: Optical Sculpting System - Drone equipped with various optical lenses such as
  • temperature and infrared, that will be deployed from the rover to analyze visually the surrounding area of the rover for optimal data collection.

    Category 2: Experiments conducted inside the HAB with the material collected by the rover, this form of data analysis is a way to optimize the research time and overall productivity by conducting the long experiments in the HAB and letting the rover collect as many data as possible. The instruments in this category include:

  • RAT: Rock Abrasion Tool - Mechanical arm located in the rover will collect rocks and deploy them on the HAB for analysis.
  • Microscopic Imager - Takes a microscopic picture of rock’s surface, the images will be analyzed inside the HAB.
  • APRXS: Alpha Particle Xray Spectrometer, uses alpha radiation and x-ray to analyze the chemical composition of the matter being analyzed.
  • Mossbauer Spectrometer - Uses gamma rays to analyze the abundance of iron on a surface.
  • All the data collected and analyzed by MORFEU is going to be used to map the mars surface on points of interest such as potential water resources, lava tubes, minerals, organic compounds, etc.

    During the realisation of this tests, the second astronaut aboard the rover would conduct a detailed scouting of the area surrounding the deployed location, utilising optical, infrared and other kinds of câmeras to search for points of interest in the surrounding área. If a point of interest is identified, the rover would then proceed to that location to realize the first and second steps of the method, and would then return to its original trajectory, repeating the same process as long as its batteries allow. After it returns to the base with its sample cargo, it would unload for the third step to take place, and in the next expedition it would choose a direction, few degrees to the right of the previous one, repeating the role process again, and covering after several expeditions, a complete circle around the base.

    When this data gathering phase is over, a complete map of the surrounding area would be available, and it would allow for strategic decisions to be taken accordingly. It would allow for example, for a good placement of the water gathering system, a mapping of the possible metal mining locations, determination of the best placement for solar farms, and marking a potential location for prospecting operations, be it for underground cavities or in search of geothermal fissures.


    This method could be applied in missions developed to look for any possible location for the settlement of larger colonies. The data gathered would be used primarily to determine if the location hás the necessary resources to support a self-sufficient base, that would utilize the resources of the surrounding areas for its overall needs.


    Utilizing NASA open data website we were able to get the knowledge needed to pick the appropriate scientific instruments used in our mission concept. With the same dataset, we were able to analyze the current Mars mission concept and use it as inspiration for our mission.

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